The Cost of Change

The Cost of Change title=
Field team preparing to collect data in Mwanza, Tanzania. Photo Credit: DAVID W. LAWSON
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By Jim Logan, UC Santa Barbara

As rural communities urbanize across the world, researchers say, the status of women often improves. The education of girls and women increases and introduces new opportunities for economic independence. Accompanying social changes also lead to reduced family sizes and smaller age gaps between spouses, changes typically associated with advances in women’s empowerment.

But a new study authored by researchers at UC Santa Barbara and published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence suggests that these improvements can come at a cost: a “violence backlash” from their husbands or partners.

Joseph Kilgallen, an anthropology graduate student and lead author of the study in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, explained that violence backlash “refers to a particularly concerning pattern of behavior which we are observing across the globe in which men are responding to increases in women’s status/empowerment with violence as they attempt to maintain patriarchal control.”

To examine intimate partner violence (IPV) in this context, Kilgallen and his co-authors interviewed married couples in a market town in the Mwanza region of northwest Tanzania. Men and women were interviewed separately on a number of topics, including the woman’s personal experience with IPV, her husband’s condonement of IPV, education level, income and more.

“We found results consistent with a violence backlash,” Kilgallen said. “As wives’ level of education and income approached or surpassed that of her husband’s, she was at a relatively greater risk of experiencing IPV and her husband condoning the use of IPV in certain circumstances.”

The study also tested the effect of family networks on IPV. Nearly 95% of residents in the Mwanza region belong to the Sukuma ethnic group, traditionally cattle herders. They’re also patrilocal — the woman generally settles in (or around) her husband’s family after marriage. But as the area urbanizes, increasing numbers of couples are living away from their family networks. 

“A move away from patrilocal residence has been argued to improve female autonomy, since the husband’s kin has less potential to control a woman’s behavior. However, we found evidence that in couples who had less interaction with the husband’s relatives, wives were at greater risk of experiencing IPV and their husband condoning IPV,” Kilgallen said. “We found similar results for women relatively close in age to their husband, which has become more common in recent years. Overall, this suggests that both economic and social changes that accompany urbanization place women at risk of violence as men react to their improved status.”

As the paper notes, IPV is common worldwide. In the Mwanza region, roughly 60% of women report experiencing some form of it in their lifetime. Still, as the team has previously established, some men are supportive of efforts towards gender equality and women’s empowerment, which Kilgallen calls a sign of potential progress.

“I see this as promising news for the future,” he said. “If these men become changemakers in their communities, they may begin to deconstruct harmful normative ideas around masculinity and how to resolve spousal conflict, creating a new way forward.”

It likely won’t be easy or quick. Kilgallen notes that the work to increase women’s empowerment may often collide with deeply engrained gender norms and entrenched patriarchal structures. 

“I believe women’s empowerment and gender equality are two of the most critical goals for all nations,” he said, “but for these efforts to be successful they must also work to protect women against potential backlash effects.”

The project is part of an ongoing collaboration with researchers at the Tanzanian National Institute for Medical Research. David Lawson, an associate professor of anthropology at UC Santa Barbara and director of the campus’s Applied Evolutionary Anthropology Lab, emphasized the team’s gratitude to the study participants.

“This study would not have been possible without the support of the local community,” Lawson said. “By sharing information on these difficult topics, they have offered new insights into an unfortunate trend that likely characterizes many similar communities.”

As a result, Kilgallen said, “Initiatives aiming to advance women’s empowerment need to be carefully designed and cognizant that change rarely comes without resistance. We must work to shift harmful gender norms that legitimize male control and use of violence against women, as well as target larger patriarchal structures that enable these behaviors and ideologies to persist without consequence.” 

Kilgallen intends to further explore these themes with his PhD work, centered around understanding the barriers and pathways to gender norm change for young men. 

Additional co-authors are Susan B. Schaffnit, Anthony Galura and Lawson of UCSB; and  Yusufu Kumogola and Mark Urassa of the National Institute for Medical Research, Mwanza, Tanzania.

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Byzantium Dec 02, 2021 10:06 AM
The Cost of Change

Right here in America, one of the most common surgeries for decades was female castration, otherwise known as a hysterectomy, which was demonstrated to be medically unnecessary in at least 90% of the cases. Yet it had become culturally acceptable and endorsed by the US medial community, until women in the first wave of feminism in the 1980s' finally fought back. Yet it continues to a disproportionate amount when compared to other industrtalized nations. A very interesting chapter in our own US cultural history supporting of female genital mutilation surgeries. Additionally in response to the devastating effects of the very high numbers of female castration surgeries in the US, women were then prescribed artificial female hormone replacement drugs leading to the large increases in hormone-driven breast cancers, which in turn lead to another wave of female multination surgeries - full and often bilateral mastectomies. So before one claims the higher ground, review our own US history and the acceptance even today of these types of culturally driven, yet medically unnecessary, female mutilation surgeries. A very odd and long buried part of our own US history. Well worth looking into what drove this US acceptance of the surgical mutilation of women.

PitMix Dec 02, 2021 08:20 AM
The Cost of Change

Two steps forward, one step back, right? Isn't that how herstory works? But the US seems to be taking some giant backward steps now. Don't worry about Tanzania, worry about Mississippi and Texas.

NostraChumash Nov 30, 2021 01:04 PM
The Cost of Change

Everything being said against the cultural practises of other countries, are actually, the very foundation of
Americas beginnings.
Here's a Native "fun fact";
Just as "island of the blue dolphin"
never really happened..neither did the Aztecs perform mass sacrifices, as books would have one believe.

a-1638308751 Nov 30, 2021 01:45 PM
The Cost of Change

But the Aztecs did sacrifices. Just not of their own people. Here is an excerpt from Science Today:
“Moreiras, who has studied samples of Mexica sacrificial victims and is an expert in Mesoamerican rituals including sacrifice, explained that the vast majority of these victims, made up of men, women and children, were most likely slaves, either obtained because of war, as gifts to the Mexica or from slave markets.”

Lucky 777 Nov 30, 2021 07:18 AM
The Cost of Change

Some stallions are better off gelded.

CoastWatch Nov 29, 2021 02:07 PM
The Cost of Change

Our "Western Culture" being forced on countries with hundreds of generations of cultural and religious beliefs that differ from ours is just plan WRONG. This goes with terms like "nation building" and "global economy"... The result is stripping different cultures and ways of life that will never be again.

a-1638322362 Nov 30, 2021 05:32 PM
The Cost of Change

@516 - I used "they" because I'm unclear of Coast's gender identification. But if I were to assume based on their comments throughout the years I'd suggest a far-right leaning straight white male in his 50s-60s, most likely retired and collecting a bloated pension from some type of public service (police, fire, city).

a-1638321389 Nov 30, 2021 05:16 PM
The Cost of Change

Who are they? Also, why did everyone assume (very incorrectly) he was talking about the very small subset of horrors like FGM, child brides and human sacrificing vs. the plethora of other cultural, religious, and ideological attributes throughout the world that aren't horrors, just different?

a-1638320143 Nov 30, 2021 04:55 PM
The Cost of Change

Coastwatch isn't serious. They love to post tongue-in-cheek comments in a poor attempt to point out liberal ideologies. The majority of what they post is sarcastic and ya'll take the bait as their past comments prove they are xenophobic and exhibit a plethora or other 'isms. Ignore them and move on.

Alexblue Nov 30, 2021 03:05 PM
The Cost of Change

Coastwatch, so if you were walking down the street and you saw a fifty year old man sexually assaulting a twelve year old you'd just stroll on by if you determined it was part of the culture they were from?

sacjon Nov 30, 2021 11:50 AM
The Cost of Change

COASTWATCH - why do you oppose this? Is it really about preserving this culture?

RHS Nov 30, 2021 11:38 AM
The Cost of Change

Coastwatch--honestly there are "cultures and ways of life" that should never exist again, stripped or not. I do not want the Aztec violent human sacrifice culture saved, I do not want the pre-Civil War South plantation and slave culture to be saved, I do not want the Viking raiding and raping and devastating culture to be naseum.

a-1638253911 Nov 29, 2021 10:31 PM
The Cost of Change

Yep our “Western Culture” is really ruining it for middle aged men who want to marry and rape 13 year old girls . Such party poopers we are to not want women to be mutilated. We are talking about religious and cultural beliefs that cause oppression, rape and war. But hey let’s just stay out of that.

a-1638249813 Nov 29, 2021 09:23 PM
The Cost of Change

Yeah, things like FGM and what is essentially female slavery are a cultural heritage that should be treasured by all. Get a clue.

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